One of the more incongruous statues in London is that of the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. It sits – or rather stands – opposite Victoria Station on top of the Victoria Palace theatre, better known for musicals like Billy Elliot and Hamilton than for ballet.
It was erected in 1911 after racehorse owner and theatre impresario Alfred Butt, later a Conservative MP, had the theatre built on the site of Royal Standard Music Hall, which Butt had purchased in 1910. He engaged Frank Matcham, the celebrated theatre architect, to build the Victoria Palace, after which he commissioned a statue in memory of Pavlova’s early performances at the new theatre.
The statue has been there ever since – every since, that, except for a gap of 63 years from 1939, when it disappeared without trace. The most likely explanation is that it was melted down for re-use during the Second World War, but there is no proof of this and it may well have been hidden away somewhere (as the statue of Charles II in Trafalgar Square was when Oliver Cromwell ordered its demolition during the Civil War).
Whatever the explanation, a new statue, fashioned using photos of the original, was erected in 2006. The effigy appears to be floating in air, even though hardly anyone seems to notice because it looks so small from the ground. Actually, it is twice the size of the real life Pavlova, who lived in London during her later years and by all accounts couldn’t bear to look at it. She would hide her face when she passed by it in a carriage as she thought it was superstitious to have a gander.
Now that the restoration of the Victoria Palace is virtually complete you can see Pavlova in all her glory once again. But to fully appreciate here, you will need a telescope or a camera with considerable magnification.
All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.
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